The limits of South Carolina Family Court Rule 7

South Carolina Family Court Rule 7 creates various evidentiary exceptions to the general rules of hearsay.  Some family law attorneys read this rule to allow any documents or letters from medical providers, schools, or the Department of Social Services (DSS) to be admissible.  The rule is not that broad and familiarity with the rule can prevent the opposing party from admitting evidence that falls outside this rule’s parameters.  Remember: if no one objects, the court will allow otherwise inadmissible evidence.

Rule 7 allows the following documents to be admitted “without requiring that the persons or institution issuing the documents or statements be present in court”:

(a) A written statement of a child’s attendance at school, signed by a school principal or duly authorized school official.

(b) The school report card showing a child’s records of attendance, grades on subjects taught and other pertinent information, provided that this be a report sent out at periodic intervals by the school.

(c) The written statement by a physician showing that a patient was treated at certain times and the type of ailment.

(d) Except in cases where the particular agency is a party, a written report of the Department of Social Services or other agency, reporting the home investigation or any other report required by the court.

(e) A written statement of an employer showing wages either weekly or monthly for a given period of time and W-2 statement, income tax returns and other reports of like nature.

Part a allows the child’s attendance at school to be presented as a written statement if it is “signed by a school principal or duly authorized school official.”  An unsigned statement or a statement from a teacher (unless that teacher is also a school official) does not fall within this exception.

Part b allows report cards (or other periodic reports) or formal school attendance records to be admitted.  This does not authorize letters from the child’s teachers to be admitted.  If one wants the child’s teachers to provide information about the child’s progress or the parents’ involvement at school one either needs an affidavit (for a motion hearing) or the teacher’s live testimony.

Part c allows the written statement of a physician to prove that a patient was treated, when the patient was treated, and what ailment(s) the patient was treated for.  Note that this statement does not need to be signed by the physician to be admissible and a doctor’s unsigned treatment record is admissible under this rule.

There is no case law on whether this rule applies to any medical providers or only Doctors of Medicine (MD’s).  In contrast, the hearsay exceptions of SCRE 803(4), which creates a hearsay exception for “[s]tatements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment,” and SCRE 803(6), which creates a hearsay exception for “a regularly conducted business activity” (which includes activities of professions such as medicine) are not limited to physicians but encompass all medical professionals.  The narrower language of Rule 7(c) makes me believe it only applies to MD’s.

Further, this rule only covers information regarding the identity of the patient, the date(s) of treatment, and the ailment(s) treated.  A physician’s opinion regarding the patient’s prognosis or the cause of the ailment does not fall under this exception.  Again, if one wishes to present such opinions to the court, one either needs the physician’s affidavit or live testimony.

Part d allows the DSS home investigations or reports that were ordered by the court to be admitted in cases in which DSS is not a party.  This does not create a blanket exception to all DSS records but only to records from home investigations (which typically show what the home conditions were like when the caseworker did a home study) or court-ordered reports (which can cover a variety of topics).  DSS case dictations–the most common records created in DSS investigations–are not admissible unless they are the home investigations or court-ordered reports.  The “or other agency” language of part d most frequently applies to home investigations conducted by social service agencies from other states.

Part e allows pay checks, W-2’s (and similar documents such as 1099’s) and tax returns to be admitted.  Further, statements of an employer (which do not need to be signed statements) can be admitted to prove a party’s or witness’ income.  The rule does not authorize statements regarding an employee’s work habits, job responsibilities, or conduct to be admitted.  Again, live testimony or affidavits are required to prove such information.

Rule 7 simplifies proof of numerous issues that are vital to most family court cases: medical conditions; children’s educations progress; the parties’ incomes.  However it is not designed to allow opinion evidence on these issues.  Having a copy of Rule 7 easily available at family court proceedings is vital to excluding otherwise inadmissible evidence and to ensuring that evidence that complies with this rule is admitted.

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